CALUMET - They've been about 12 years in the planning, and now the Keweenaw National Historical Park visitor center and exhibit hall in the Union Building in Calumet are only a month and a half from opening.
Wednesday, the company setting up the displays for the building, Color-Ad of Manasses, Va., started unloading the moving vans carrying the various parts of the displays. Setup will take several weeks.
Kathleen Harter, KNHP chief of interpretation and education, said the first floor of the building will house the park visitor center on one side, and on the other side a permanent exhibit, which is intended to draw people in from the street.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Kathleen Harter, Keweenaw National Historical Park chief of interpretation and education, looks over the 3-D map of the Keweenaw Peninsula in what will be the KNHP visitor center in the Union Building in Calumet Wednesday.
In another room behind the permanent exhibit will be a changing exhibit of different items. Some of those exhibits use panels in metal frames with locally significant photographs, Harter said.
"We've used historic images from several different collections, including the National Park Service and the Michigan Technological University Archives," she said.
The visitor center will include a long counter and a three-dimensional interactive map of the Keweenaw Peninsula and surrounding area. Users can get information about locations they would like to visit using computers which will be installed next to the map.
A permanent main exhibit hall will be installed on the second floor of the building, and Harter said its purpose is to depict life in the Calumet area during the copper mining era as closely as possible.
"We've covered education, downtown, commerce, faith, schools, immigration, labor history and saloons," she said. "We were at least trying to touch on the aspects that made up the community."
Harter said in the second floor exhibit hall, there will be reproductions of items from daily life, which visitors can touch.
Original items will be in display cases and can't be touched.
For example, one of the original items obtained from the Houghton County Historical Society is a stained glass sign for First National Bank of Calumet, and it received some special treatment.
"It's been carefully cleaned and conserved," she said.
Many of the items for the second-floor exhibit hall were collected locally by Brian Hoduski, KNHP chief of museum and archival services, beginning in autumn 2009.
Also at the Union Building Wednesday was Cynthia Coffelt from the NPS Harpers Ferry Center in Virginia, who said eight workers were sent to unload display items and place them in various parts of the building.
"There will be different people doing different things," she said.
Harter said the second-floor exhibit hall will include displays with an audio component composed of descriptive narration.
There will also be a film, which includes local people talking about Calumet in the past and present.
The exhibits in the building will be free to view, Harter said, and the plan is to keep it open year round, depending on the availability of staffing.
Harter said although the exhibits in the Union Building will be fairly inclusive, visitors will be encouraged to visit other historic sites, such as the Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne's across Fifth Street from the building, the Hanka Homestead near Baraga and Laurium Manor Inn in Laurium, to get a more complete view of life during the copper-mining era.
There will be a "soft" opening of the visitor center and exhibits in mid-October, Harter said, and on Oct. 27, there will be a grand opening and ribbon cutting, which Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, is expected to attend.
That day is also the 19th anniversary of the KNHP, which Levin was instrumental in creating.
There are many events planned for the day, Harter said, and they will be made public at a later date.
Harter said park staff and many Calumet community members have worked a long time getting the Union Building visitor center and exhibit hall completed, and they're looking forward to its opening.
"It's very, very exciting," she said.